Universalist polity persists today

A couple of weeks ago, I was batting back and forth with an informed Unitarian Universalist friend about our polity, when at one point he zeroed in at the settled clergy vote at General Assembly, at which point I had to stand up for the Universalist contribution to our polity.

This is my side of the discussion, which I admit was a bit of a monologue at that point. I don’t have his permission to share his side, but if commenters want to continue the conversation, I would consider it an honor.

I was wondering what the future holds…

With the one-way push to regions, will there be an opening for devolution of connection authority? — congregational membership, mission planning, ministerial fellowship [at the regional level] — now that there aren’t 19-22 districts.

[After all,] There’s a lot more embedded Universalism in our system than we sometimes credit.

[And then the push about General Assembly votes.]

It’s about fellowship, not credentials per se. Makes more sense in the Universalist sense if the other piece was still in place.

That is, the fellowship of the parishes.

That’s because, from a Universalist frame, the UUA acts (imperfectly) as a national church, something the Unitarians would never have.

[My friend opined that this result is sub-optimal.]

[Today’s system is]neither-nor.

The names tell you all. The American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America.

And why scant resources went to build a Universalist National Memorial Church, but the Unitarians never did.

To finish my thought, the churches were (supposed) to have a parallel relationship to their conventions that the ministers did, supervised by the same committee.

And both ministers and lay persons served on them. Not that I’m all rah-rah retro Universalist.

The half-time service requirement for fellowship renewals — a thorn in my side — is a re-write of a pre-consolidation Universalist rule.

The page turned to GA 2016

I stumbled across the webpage of the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly, which talks about — in broad terms — next year’s convention.

It’s in Columbus, Ohio.

It’ll certainly be less expensive for more people than last year’s (Portland, Oregon) and possibly than 2017 GA in New Orleans, as Columbus is a lower cost city for hotels and nearer the population centroid for Unitarian Universalists, which is in Illinois.

I hope to be there. So what great plans can we make with the opportunity?

An unlikely word about convention economy

The World Congress of Esperanto (Universala Kongreso, or UK) started its meeting this evening in Lille, France.

I’m not there; perhaps next year in Slovakia. But to mark the occasion, I looked up the official World Esperanto Association (Universala Esperanto-Asocio, or UEA) and found this page, incongruously written in English, and thus the title of this blog post. It’s meant to explain the UK to “partners” presumably to include local government and tourism authorities, who are more likely to read English than Esperanto.

Now, I’ve found Esperantists to be thrifty in their arrangements, and this passage sums up the reasoning in a dignifed way:

As a non-profit NGO, UEA is a very budget-conscious organization and so is the Congress of the Association. This congress has many special charms, but sober treatment of the financial matter is required. The delegates pay expenses from their own funds and usually are price conscious. Many of the delegates come from developing countries, and there are significant proportions of retired people and students among the participants. This is a people’s congress for ordinary people, not an elaborate meeting of executives financed by corporate funds.

I think you could say much the same about General Assemblies. Ours, and from the #CampbellCon plaints, others, too. Just because you’re clergy doesn’t mean that our basic meetings are affordable, or paid from expense accounts.

In case you wonder about the costs of going to the UK, see this registration cost page. Early registration for a typical member from a rich country is 180 euros; a member with a disability from a poor country would pay 60 euros; and a person under 21 would pay nothing. For some hotel options, see the Dua Bulteno (Second Bulletin; the First is the invitation with registration info) with lodging info, from page 9, including student accomodation, much like the Unitarian Universalist use of college dorms. Or here. I also like the meal ticket (see page 12), for example six dinners — two courses, cheese, dessert and tap water for 54 euros, but this may be an opportunity of meeting in a French college town. (Another Esperantist custom — the amasloĝejo; “mass-dwelling” — is often only BYO sleeping bag crash space; a hard sell for most people. But the Lille local committee did try to find a place, without success. I did have an attendee crash on my apartment floor the one year I lived in a GA town.)

You may also note excursions (from page 13) and a banquet that show that some Esperantists have the means and will to spend more.

And you may also note that the flight from North America would double all of these costs. But there’s something to learn here if we try.

Notes, from the Disciples GA for ours next year

This is less blog post and more notepad, to record on-the-ground observations from attendees of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) General Assembly. They’re meeting in Columbus, Ohio now, and the Unitarian Universalist Association will meet there next June.

  1. Convention Center seating leaves something to be desired.
  2. In the spirit of ecumenism, I suspect the same will be true of Unitarian Universalists.

  3. And the AC is too cold
  4. Yes, there are watering holes. Some less obvious.
  5. Taking names:

  6. And places to eat.
  7. (@BluetoothTodd is a parody account, so some cheese humor may be in play.)

    • Double Comfort

Following the Disciples General Assembly

As some of you know, I trained for the ministry and received the degree of Master of Divinity at Brite Divinity School, a theological seminary of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) General Assembly began today in Columbus, Ohio under the theme “Soar!” I noticed a bunch of my classmates flying cross country, and then I noticed they were going to the city the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly will be next year: Columbus, Ohio.

And so the Twitter hashtag for the CC(DOC) GA is #DisciplesSoar.

Alexander_Campbell_1788But what keeps my attention is a playful and cheerful parallel hashtag. If #DisciplesSoar is for the serious business, the #CampbellCon is for the fun stuff, for the relationship building and a knowing recognition that our awkward, wonky church conventions bear more that a passing resemblance to comics and sci-fi fandom.  (The hashtag is a reference to Alexander Campbell, a wild-haired founder. It would be as if we had a hashtag #BallouBoatHome. But I’m sure we could do better that that.)

I mean, I wish we could be so playful. There are a few of us, but we’re on the magins.  If we Unitarian Universalists, who suffer from debilitating earnestness, could put up with Twitter accounts like

We have @UUHulk, but rely rather too much on it. (Him?)

So put a pin in it: we could have more fun at General Assembly. It might even make the hard parts more bearable.

And best wishes to the Disciples in convention.

So, any take away thoughts from General Assembly?

Even though I didn’t go to General Assembly this year — there was a very nice family wedding the same time — I tried to keep up with the news as best I can.

And saying that, I’m glad I didn’t go. There seemed to be a lot of feeling there — and camaraderie — but (as I’ve suggested elsewhere) I can meet my friends elsewhere (online included) and the amount of forward motion the UUA generates doesn’t seem to justify the effort of GA. (Indeed, a lot of the work of the UUA seems to be solving problems of our own creation.) That and there seemed to be a good bit of grievance cultivating there. Enough.

But if you were there, perhaps you have other experiences. Better ones, worse ones. And perhaps you have a special way of actually participating in General Assembly. (I think the attend-every-possible-session approach is certain death.)

Feel free to share your thoughts.

And as of now, I do plan on attending the General Assembly in Columbus, Ohio next year.

The last of the licensed ministers

There has been some buzz, both associated with the #sustainministry theme and the fear of shortages in the ministry, that there should be some intermediate ministerial status. To which I noted to those within earshot that the Universalists once licensed ministers, and that we could consider doing so again.

There were licensed ministers — holdovers from before consolidation — within my time as a Unitarian Universalist. They even had their own section in the UUA directory, but year by year their numbers declined by death.

In time they were all gone; I don’t know who was the last. The right the UUA reserved (or at least claimed) to recognize such licensed ministers seem equally a dead letter, so it was cleaned out of the bylaws at a General Assembly.

When? More recently than you might think. The year 2000.

I was present at that GA and was both sad at the moment passing and thought that without a prior claim, any church was free to so license ministers. And I still feel this way.

Here’s how the bylaws read, just before the provision was removed, for those who want the details.

effective June 28, 1999
[…]
Section 11.4b
[…]
The Ministerial Fellowship Committee may also with the approval of the Board of Trustees make rules pertaining to the status of, and recognition by the Association of, lay preachers and the granting of licenses to them.

A year later, that was gone. The bylaws effective July 1, 2000.

All Souls Miami set for UUA admission vote

So, I was reading through the Unitarian Universalist Association Board packet for the June meeting — as one does — and see that All Souls Miami is (alone) scheduled to be voted upon for admission to the UUA.

I’ve never never seen an application go this far and not be accepted, so I’ll offer my confident (if premature) congratulations. I welcome all new members to the UUA of course, but All Souls Miami is special to me because it’s Christian: the first Christian church admitted since Epiphany Church, Fenton, Michigan, joined many years ago and has since disbanded.

So, again, congratulations to All Souls Miami. You can read their application packet here. (PDF)


Also thanks to the formerly emerging Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Austin, Texas, which has dissolved, as reported in the packet.

Economics of Ministry, 1856 edition

Before the #sustainmininstry thread fades (presumably to revive at General Assembly) I wanted to meditate on how our ancestors coped. In my last blog post, I opined that ministerial shortages were practically a tradition. So is coping with meagre funds. This theme cropped up continuously when I worked on my never-finished master’s thesis — golly — about a quarter century ago. But those lessons learned over microfilmed antebellum newspapers made an impression.

  1. Have a sideline. Perhaps seasonal. Perhaps not farming.
  2. Your sideline? Call it media production. There was a reason why there were so many Universalist newspapers. (Which inspired me to create my first websites.)
  3. But don’t expect to get paid. Those minister-editors had a terrible time getting their subscribers to pay.
  4. Seminary may not be in reach, but an apprenticeship may be.
  5. If you can’t get a minister full time, perhaps you can be in a circuit. Some little societies only saw the minister every few months. But it was consistent. Ish.
  6. Be ready to pool your resources to memorialize a dead minister, or to support surviving dependents. But people may still mumble and grumble about the expense…
  7. Plant churches to make better use of public transportation. Who can afford a carriage, horsed or horseless?
  8. And follow migration patterns. When church members move, start a church where they go.
  9. Inactivate churches when there’s no minister, leadership or money. Call them dormant, but don’t lose contact with with a would-be reorganizer: it may be re-started.
  10. Use home hospitality at conventions. Well, I guess that one never really went away.